All the Tears

The way I see it, there are three options: there is no god; god doesn’t care; god isn’t who we think he is.

The problem is pain. I am staring down the barrel of my marriage ending. I don’t want it to, there is nothing I can do to stop it, and all I can do is watch it happen. I happen to live in a no-fault divorce state, not that my wife is really claiming any fault: she just wants out. I follow a woman on twitter who is facing betrayal from her significant other. She wants to know why someone who owns a Ferrari would test drive Escorts and Pintos. I wonder the same thing, not that I am any Ferrari, but when you have a solid, albeit quirky Corolla, why rush to dump it for a bicycle?

And it isn’t just relational pain that I see every day, in every corner of the world, in every body’s eyes. But that pain is closest to my bleeding heart today.

So: god. He is supposed to be all powerful, all good, all knowing, and all caring. So why doesn’t he do something about all this pain? This is a classic question, and the classic atheist answer is “obviously, there is no god”. The problem with that pat answer is it ignores humanity completely.

We humans are terrible creatures who insist on being terrible to each other. So much of the pain I see in the world and in the mirror is because one human isn’t being awesome towards another human. To be honest, I wasn’t awesome to my wife. A lot of it wasn’t my fault as I suffer from depression, but some of it was, and fault aside, I was making her life terrible. I saw the pain in her eyes and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. Sometimes I saw the pain in her eyes and chose not to do anything about it. I think god, if he exists, is the same way. I would hazard a guess that he has left us humans to our own devices long ago. Maybe he tried to interfere, make our world better, and maybe we killed him over it. Maybe we told him to sod off. Maybe he left.

I don’t know. I just want to make sense of all the tears I am crying, try to make them mean something, try to find solace in the suffering. So I reach out for a god, but I just don’t feel anybody reaching back. I feel totally alone. I have asked for help, asked for answers, asked for insight in this whole god thing, and the consistent answer I get is that if I search after god, if I seek, I will find. So far, that hasn’t been the case. 

It seems to me that if god is there and is wanting to make the loving choice to end some pain he would do it on the quiet, on the down low, on the personal level. He can’t stop natural disasters, he can’t stop people being terrible, but he should be able to make my heart bleed a little less, make the pain of the ending less intense. So where is he? Where is god? Wherever he is, he isn’t here. He isn’t listening to me. I don’t want much, just a drop of water to cool my tongue in this hell I’m living in, and it isn’t dripping down from on high.

So does that mean there is no god? Maybe not. But it certainly makes me wonder.

All I know is my pain and it isn’t going away. But that is life, and it only reaffirms to me that I am human, and there I am in good company. I pick up, I walk, and I continue living in spite of my pain. I do what seems impossible and that makes me mighty.

If you are suffering, if you are in pain, know that you are not alone. You can keep going, you can walk. You can do the impossible and join the legions of impossibly mighty people who are doing exactly the same thing. Maybe that is the solace in the suffering.

I hope, suddenly, that this isn’t just so much whining and complaining. I find it helpful to write through my struggles, but I can only write if I imagine (and make it possible that) someone might read what I write. So here’s to you, someone. God or not, we can at least take a few more steps and keep praying. Let’s lean on each other and walk a little further down the dusty road.

Confessions of an Atheist

I would say I am spiritual, but not religious.

I was religious once, and I never will be again. Too much pain and suffering has been caused at the hands of the religious for me to be comfortable identifying with any religious group ever again.

Is there a god? This is a good question which preoccupies many, many people. Even those who say they are religious and that they believe in a god ask themselves this question often. Christians, a group I am most familiar with, call it having faith. You don’t have faith in absolute certainties. Things you know you don’t believe in. There is no evidence for a god. If there were, I would know there was one. There is evidence for gravity, therefore I know gravity exists. There is no evidence for god, therefore I do not know he exists.

In my understanding, this is what makes faith necessary. God cannot be proven, therefore one must believe, through faith, that a god exists.

I am an atheist because I have no proof for a god’s existence. I am not a believer, not because I do not have a capacity for faith, but I lack belief.

Why do I lack belief? I have yet to see a need for a god in my life. A god, commonly stated, is an all powerful supreme being who rules, or who has the capacity to rule, humanity, by fiat of being a god. Many religions of the world believe in one god, some believe in several, a few believe in a pantheon of gods. Christianity, again, a religion I am most familiar with, believes in one God who rules because he created the universe (or multiverse, should it be proven there is more than one universe). This God is supposedly all powerful, all good, and all knowing.

So why do I not exercise my faith and believe in God despite a lack of evidence like many on the planet? Why should I? I have yet to find a compelling argument for why belief is necessary. This is an open question I have. Without proof of existence, why should I have faith?

I once believed in the God of Christianity; I once was devoutly religious. I am no more because the evidence I thought I had for God fell away as inadequate. I made the logical choice to stop believing just like I made the choice to stop believing in other mythical beings and creatures once I grew old and discerning enough to know that they did not exist.

I have no barrier towards belief and faith. I simply see no reason why it is necessary. If it could be proven how and why belief in God, or a god, or many gods, is necessary to my continued existence, I would happily believe.

I’ll put it this way. To date, there is no credible evidence for life beyond our tiny little planet. Intelligence life seems to be reserved to homo sapiens and perhaps a few lower forms of animal life. I choose to believe, despite the lack of evidence, that not only life but intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe (or multiverse). In the same way, I could believe that god, or gods, or God. But I see no reason why I should, why I must.

This is why I am an atheist.

There is something further. Most Christians, and other prominent religions that I am aware of, are not content with mere belief. There is an insistence upon subservience, upon obeisance to the god, or gods, or God. It is unclear to me why I should not only believe that such a deity exists, but that I should indenture myself to lifelong servitude to said deity.

These are the questions that I, as an atheist, have. Why believe and why indenture? I am sincerely open to answers, to discussion on the matter. I admit, that I, as a former Christian, feel that something is missing in my life. Consider it this way: a person who lives in a family of sports fanatics, who does not follow sports, may nevertheless feel a lack of something when they leave the atmosphere of fanaticism. I feel that sort of emptiness.

I am spiritual, but it is a quiet, non-specific sort of spirituality. I am moved by nature, by the beauty of human compassion; I lose myself in the sublime joy of a baseball game, in competition. The written word especially captures my heart, as does the emotion of an actor on a screen, lost in performance. But I don’t have anything more than that, and I can’t help but feel I should. I just don’t know why. I suppose that is a third question I could ask. Why do I feel compelled to have something more to my spirituality? Why do I feel the need to investigate the tenants of ordered religion? I don’t know.

So I ask for help. If you think you have answers, if you think you have understanding, come, let us reason together. I want to know. I want answers to my questions.

Lumberfield Lager

Lloyd was a dwarf. Like most dwarves, aside from gold and jewels and mining, Lloyd loved a good lager after work. Nothing smoothed the dust coated throat like a rich, golden lager.

Usually dwarves all ascended from the mines and drank in groups, but Lloyd was a bit of a loner. He didn’t have many friends and his mine didn’t produce much beyond the odd bit of pyrite which he sold to the odd dumb human as real gold.

So Lloyd found himself alone at the Ugly Elvish Maiden, drinking his after work lager and fidgeting on his stool.

That was when she breezed in. She was tall, but not graceful and billowy like an elf. Neither was she bearded, like a dwarf, but there was a hint of something more than slightly hairy about her. Lloyd couldn’t put his finger on it exactly.

She sat down a few stools over from him and ordered a wine. She caught Lloyd’s eye, and he gave her a slight smile and stroked his beard, a signal of greeting from a dwarf which was mostly reflex and mostly missed by non-dwarves. This particular woman didn’t miss the gesture as she repeated the motion, albeit beardless.

“You’d do bett’r with a lager.” Lloyd’s own voice startled him. He didn’t know why he spoke up just then. Usually Lloyd tried to avoid conversation or communication. He usually just drank a pint or two then went home to polish gems or work on commissioned jewelry until bedtime.

“Nothing like a heady wine for me.” The woman rejoinded.

Lloyd shrugged. “Wine makes me dizzy.” It came out gruffer than he intended, but she laughed, “A light-pated dwarf, now there’s something.” She patted the stool next to her.

A surprised Lloyd didn’t respond right away, but he grabbed his mug and hopped down off his stool and shuffled over to her.

“Thank ye kindly,” he said. “Mostly I have to drink alone after work. Just me and ma lager.”

She didn’t ask what he did for work. Everyone knows what dwarves do for work.

“So what’s a nice gel like you doin’ in an Ugly Elf Maiden like this?” It was an old, tired line, but Lloyd didn’t have much practice. She gave him a pass for his awkward opening.

“Just passing through. You know, I’ve never had a lager. Maybe you could recommend one? I’d love to try something new.”

Lloyd gestured to his half full/half empty mug. “Not too much to recommend here,” he said. “They’ve only got a Noggenfogger which is a mite too weak for ma tastes, as it isn’t a proper lager.”

“So what do you recommend?”

“Well, I’ve got my own lager I brew at home. It’s proper heavy and rich.”

“I’d love a taste.”

Lloyd was too surprised for words, but he was an opportunistic dwarf. He found himself hopping off his stool for a second time and walking the woman out of the Ugly Elvish Maiden. Here he found himself at a loss.

“I usually walk home, but its a fair way.”

“No problem, we can take my bike,” she said, motioning to a beautiful, large motorcycle parked outside the bar.

Lloyd looked at it with mistrust, but she just laughed.

“It’ll do us both just fine.”

So that was how Lloyd rode a chopper into the forest with a mysterious and lager curious woman. After a short way, he pointed out a side trail, which she took, and which led them both to a little clearing.

The scent of pine and poplar was in the air as Lloyd had been logging nearby. Aromatic sawdust littered the ground in mounds around stumps where Lloyd had felled trees and sawn them up for firewood and for making things. Nearby stood a little shack, what amounted to his home.

Lloyd led the woman inside, and there he introduced her to her first lager, and unlike what the pub served, it was a proper lager. They both consumed a rather prodigious amount and got more than roaring drunk. Well, he was quiet mostly while she roared.

That night was a full moon, and Lucille the Werewolf enjoyed herself a fine dinner of fresh dwarf and properly brewed beer. She toasted to the roasted Lloyd.

“Went down smooth!” she said, and drained her glass.*

*This short story was inspired by @NikaHarper and her tweet: “MMOs: where a dwarf drinking Noggenfogger befriends a werewolf, they go for a ride on a rocket and get drunk in the forest.”

Confessions of an Atheist 2

Well, that was interesting.

I wrote earlier about being an atheist and my quest for answers to my questions about god. With few exceptions what I got were not god related answers. What I got were a bunch of people who I know to be Christians denying that they were Christians at all, or more to the point, denying that they were like other Christians.

I mention this because I am about to say that I am not like other atheists.

I am not like other atheists.

Well, I am, but only in two very basic ways: I am human. I don’t believe in god (or gods or God). There is no other defining characteristic of an atheist. In fact, it is a bit of a misnomer to call someone an atheist in the first place. Why does not believing in god carry its own moniker? I have a theory, which I will get to in a second. But first, there is no term for people who disbelieve in unicorns, dragons, Santa Clause or other mythical creatures/beings. Except maybe the term “adult” except even children can disbelieve in these things and frequently do. So why do atheists have their own inclusive group name? I think because of Christians, and the Christianity dominated world. The numbers vary, but the largest religious group on the planet is Christianity. Around 33% of the world is Christian. Another third is Islam and Buddhism combined. (I got my facts from a quick Googling. Don’t crucify me over inaccurate data. I’m not writing a scientific paper here. Close enough for gov’ment I always say.) Everyone else is some smaller religion or no religion at all.  So Christians name us atheists because they have a god dominated world view and define the world in terms of their religion. “Atheist” then is a Christian term, not a secular term. There is no secular term. We simply don’t believe. We call ourselves people.

It amuses me that Christians frequently deny being Christians, or deny being like other Christians. Look, I get it. Even I am lumping Catholics and Protestants together under the moniker “Christian” so I know there are differences there, but they all believe similar things, with only, being honest, minor differences. You believe in one God not named Allah, and his son Jesus Christ, you are a Christian. Pure and simple. Christians have churches and in America, at least, don’t pay taxes as a group. Sunnis and Shi’ites are both still Muslims (though I am not familiar enough with Islam to know the difference). For that matter, Muslims say that Allah is the same god as the Christian god. They also believe in Jesus. Practically speaking, from the “atheist” point of view, 2/3 of the world believes in the same god and that god’s son. To say otherwise is silly because the run of the mill atheist doesn’t bother about trivial doctrinal differences within or between religions. In the same way, each family that does the Santa Clause thing has their own little take on Santa, but they don’t really make a big deal when one kid says something a little different about the jolly old guy. (Or is he an elf? Some versions of the myth say he is. You get my point.)

Me saying I am an atheist is not an attempt to identify with any world group. I’m just a person. But I am helping my Christian friends know how to classify me according to their world view. I could just as well call myself an apostate or a non-believer, but technically, Christians are apostate to the other 2/3 of the planet. Ultimately, I use atheist as a convenient term. But it remains a religious term. I just prefer to call myself a person, really.

Of the people who didn’t immediately clamor “but I am not a Christian like 1/3 of the planet” one was a Christian and one was a fellow person. The Christian actually didn’t try to use any evidence to convince me of anything. She actually agreed with me that faith is believing in God outside of direct evidence, and that she believes because of her personal experiences with God. Fair enough, as personal experience is not evidence. The fellow person and I had a discussion about religion being a culture phenomenon (when you really get down to it) and that science should remain free of any religious bias. Again, fair enough. Religion typically is not provable or disprovable by science. It isn’t even in the same category of thing. There is not way to marry science and religion, really. I appreciated both view points, but probably loved the Christian’s more. It is so refreshing to have a Christian not argue from the Bible or some theological doctrine, but simply to say, “Yes, I believe and that is a personal thing. In order to believe, it must be personal for you as well.”

But I still want to know what compels a Christian, or a Muslim for that matter, to believe in a god at all, and why, if they believe, they feel the need to serve a god. I’m still asking those questions.